“Arianism” is derived from Arius, a presbyter or elder of Alexandria whose views were condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. He held that God the Son didn’t always exist but was created by God the Father at a point in time. Thus, although the Son was created before and was greater than the rest of creation and could be even described as like the Father, he was not of the same substance as the Father. The best-known Arians today are the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Yesterday in our after-breakfast Bible reading time my family and I began reading the section on Arianism in Chapter 14, “God in Three Persons: The Trinity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Yesterday we read the part of the section which describes the controversy, and today we’ll read the parts of the section which consider two related false doctrines (subordinationism and adoptionism) and give reasons why it is important to hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, the belief that God is one but exists as three persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each of whom is fully God. Here I’ll share from what we read yesterday.
The Arians focused on Bible passages which called Jesus Christ the “only begotten” Son of God:
– (John 1:14) “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (KJV; usually I quote from the ESV, but it translates “only begotten” as “only Son”).
– (John 3:16) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).
– (John 3:18) “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (KJV).
– (1 John 4:9) “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (KJV).
They reasoned that if Jesus Christ were “begotten” by God the Father he must have been brought into existence by Him, “beget” referring to a father’s role in conceiving a child.
Two other Bible passages which Arians used were:
– (Proverbs 8:22) “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (ESV).
– (Colossians 1:15) “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (ESV).
They argued that “first” and “firstborn” imply that the Son was brought into existence at some time. They gained even more support from Proverbs 8:22 because the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) has “The Lord created me” instead of “The Lord possessed me.” However Grudem argues that “firstborn” is better understood to mean that Jesus Christ has the rights or privileges of the first-born and points out that the NIV translates Colossian 1:15’s “firstborn of all creation” as “firstborn over all creation.”
Grudem also observes regarding the passages which called Jesus Christ the “only begotten” Son of God that the early church felt so strongly the force of the many Bible passages showing that Jesus Christ was fully God (see my October 28 “The Trinity – Each Person Is Fully God – Part 1” post) that it concluded that “only begotten” couldn’t mean “created.” Thus the Nicene Creed in 325 affirmed that Jesus Christ was “begotten, not made” and the phrase was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The Nicene Creed also insisted that Jesus Christ was “of one substance with the Father” (not just “of similar substance,” which Arius was willing to agree with) and this was also reaffirmed by the Council of Constantinople. In my next post I’ll include the Nicene Creed in the revised form issued by the Council of Constantinople.